Showtime Part 1 Review: Campy, Voyeuristic Look at Bollywood

The first part of the series, produced by Karan Johar’s Dharmatic Entertainment, is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.
Showtime Part 1 Review: Campy, Voyeuristic Look at Bollywood

Creator: Sumit Roy
Directors: Mihir Desai, Archit Kumar
Writers: Lara Chandni, Mithun Gangopadhyay, Karan Sharma
Cast: Emraan Hashmi, Mahima Makwana, Rajeev Khandelwal, Shriya Saran, Mouni Roy, Naseeruddin Shah, Vishal Vashishtha 

Number of episodes: 4
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar

A clever publicity spot for Showtime – the latest show from Karan Johar’s Dharmatic Entertainment – stars Johar as himself. As a studio boss, he is imploring his writer (Vijay Maurya) to pitch a fresh long-form concept. Johar is done with sappy love stories, and now wants a series that has absolutely nothing to do with his own legacy. The bemused employee begins his narration, bringing to mind ‘institute’ writer Anurag Kashyap pitching to his over-the-top director (Sanjay Kapoor) in Luck By Chance (2009). The story features a powerful producer who has inherited a studio from his legendary father, his “nepo-king” reputation and an insider-versus-outsider battle, amongst other things. The video thrives on Johar’s lack of self-awareness: He greenlights the idea, oblivious to the fact that the ‘premise’ is not-so-loosely based on him. 

This is, of course, an in-joke about the self-referential commentary of recent Dharma titles. After taking on his own filmography in Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahaani (2023), Johar takes on his own life in Showtime – a based-on-true-rumours drama about the power struggles, ego battles and off-camera controversies in the Hindi film industry. 

Naseeruddin Shah in Showtime
Naseeruddin Shah in Showtime

Can You Guess the Real-Life Parallel?

Showtime, created by Sumit Roy, is the kind of unapologetically campy series that counts on the voyeuristic desires of the average viewer. Only the first four episodes are streaming right now, but it’s not difficult to gauge its intent. A big part of the experience is to become the Rick-Dalton-in-Once-Upon-a-Time-in-Hollywood meme – eagerly pointing at and spotting the ‘inspirations’ for every character, cameo, scene, gag and spat. Nothing is spared: The composites range from YashRaj Films to the Khans, from cancel culture and effigy-burning to raging affairs and massy Kannada superstars. 

A new-age producer (Emraan Hashmi) at odds with the vintage vision of his godfather-of-romance father (Naseeruddin Shah)? Got it. The disillusioned dad insisting that “cinema dhandha nahi, dharm hai (cinema is a religion, not a business)”? Aha. A superstar (Rajeev Khandelwal) doing his first action movie and living in a mansion called Jannat? I see. That same superstar growing his own organic veggies, getting jealous of heroines on the shoot and referring to his fans as ‘Armaanians’? Ooh. A lowly film critic (Mahima Makwana) getting fired for rejecting a bribe and trashing said producer’s movie? Ahem. That same critic becoming a studio boss, realizing how hard it is to make movies, and losing her idealism? Understood. A producer wooing a star by offering his wife (Shriya Saran) an OTT film? Gotcha. A Gen-Z boss wooing a Cannes-winning filmmaker (Neeraj Madhav) to make a period epic? Interesting. A small-time model (Mouni Roy) dating the studio boss and landing a plum project? Oho. A Bollywood-is-dead subplot led by a shady financier (Vijay Raaz) pitching Hindi remakes of South Indian hits? Hmm. 

A still from Showtime
A still from Showtime

Showtime isn’t a pathbreaker within its genre; Vikramaditya Motwane’s Jubilee released only last year. But the irony is that Showtime isn’t even original within its own meta-verse. Dharma’s Netflix series, The Fame Game (2022), used the same formula disguised as the tale of a glamorous actress (Madhuri Dixit) who goes missing – and the result was not very effective. Showtime is more direct, in that its foreground is the Hindi film industry and its backdrop is the human drama. The result, however, is the same. 

More Snack, Less Binge

The problem with making the setting the protagonist is simple: Where is the soul? Having the depth of a ‘BollyBlindsNGossip’ thread on Reddit can’t be the selling point. It’s why movies about movies like Om Shanti Om (2007) and Luck By Chance stand the test of time: The characters are never compromised at the altar of spill-the-tea storytelling. We follow the people just as much as their profession. Ditto for An Action Hero (2022), a perfectly pulpy satire on Bollywood lore. 

Emraan Hashmi in Showtime
Emraan Hashmi in Showtime

Here, the story and its conflicts aren’t compelling enough. The focus is more on how they operate and who they represent than how they feel: It’s all ‘goss’ and little substance. Consequently, most of the performances lack the complexities of their setting. Makwana, as critic-turned-boss Mahika Nandy, plays more of a narrative device than a woman; she switches from righteous and bumbling to ruthless girlboss in the blink of an eye. She also wins over a financier, an actor and a director with the laziest monologues possible. Hashmi, as embattled heir Raghu Khanna, spends most of his time strutting about and cursing nobody in particular. You can tell that the actor enjoys hammy renditions in the movie ecosystem (case in point: Selfiee), but Khanna is too one-note to lift Showtime beyond its scandals. Khandelwal flattens the crowd-pleasing role – of a self-absorbed superstar with all the hangups and idiosyncrasies you’d expect of him. Even the core of the series – this rivalry between the self-righteous outsider and the box-office-obsessed insider – is compromised. It’s revealed early on that Mahika is no Nayak-style reporter-turned-chief-minister hero; she is related to the Khannas – a bit of a copout, given the entire nepotism-versus-merit angle. 

Some of the passing details are nice. Like, for instance, Mahika’s journo-hangout being an Andheri quarter bar. Or a star suggesting changes like ‘parkour’ in a period biopic. Or the ‘outdated’ studio founder sadly watching his classics in a private projection room. Or a financier offering an Indian whiskey so that he can make a point about the missing desi-ness in Indian movies. Or Mahika noticing symptoms of domestic abuse while her boyfriend feigns ignorance. Or even a background performer delivering an intense shot because she’s just discovered that she’s pregnant. But again, these vignettes are supposed to be the pathway to a broader journey – which, so far at least, Showtime is too enamoured by its own access to explore. Striving to be snackable is a legitimate genre these days. But aspiring to be a binge-watch can be tricky. Somewhere along the way, intent morphs into blind-item content – content that makes it hard to tell a publicity spot from the actual series. After all, Karan Johar is the best thing about Showtime – and he isn’t even in it. 

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